How many times have we heard this from our friends, acquaintances and relatives who smoke? More importantly, how many times have we seen someone throw a cigarette butt on the ground?

We discussed this with Marco Fimognari, founder and CEO of RE-CIG, the first and only authorised cigarette butt collection company in Italy and Europe. The company has been an Ecomondo and Italian Exhibition Group partner for a number of years.


>> We’re talking about cigarette butts, a piece of litter, only a few centimetres long and weighing just 0.3 grams or so. A seemingly harmless piece of rubbish but...

Exactly, there’s a “BUT”. We find cigarette butts everywhere: city streets, beaches, town parks, mountain trails. Cigarette butts are unfortunately the most common form of litter even in the Mediterranean Sea.

Suffice to say that cigarette filters account for more than 40% of waste found in the sea and that one cigarette butt can pollute up to 1,000 litres of water.


>> We can also call it a "pervasive" form of waste.

Let's consider an important fact: 850,000 tonnes of this form of waste is produced worldwide every year. On a national scale, in a country with a population of about 59 million, 13,000 tonnes of waste is produced from butts, based on about 10.5 million smokers getting through an average of 12-13 cigarettes per day.

RE-CIG was created to try to find an answer to this problem.


>> Tell us how this entrepreneurial experience came about.

We started to explore the scenario we were talking about just now, the numbers. Specifically between 2016 and 2019, we focused on research, we filed our European patent, and in 2020 we started operations.

So far, we are the first and only company in Europe to treat this type of waste.


>> Specifically, what does RE-CIG do?

We focus on two main activities: collecting butts for recycling and, perhaps most importantly, promoting the project in order to provide information and raise awareness.


>> And this is precisely where the idea of working with Italian Exhibition Group came from.

Italian Exhibition Group and the Green&Tech division, of which Ecomondo is part, are very sensitive to the topic. One example: both the event and the fairgrounds have gained ISO 20121 certification, and this makes us kindred spirits.

Then, the events involve a large number of people, many of them smokers, and this is an excellent catchment area for us.


>> There is also a second aspect not to be overlooked in this cooperation.

That's right, having so many people in one place together also means we can connect with them and raise their awareness of waste management issues. I’d tell them that if they’re not going to give up smoking, they can still make their waste more sustainable.

To raise awareness, we put out RE-CIG-branded ashtrays, there are about xxx of them, along with all the details of the project, urging smokers to make an informed choice.


>> Let's take a step back and look at the numbers of your work to give an idea of the project’s scale

Nationally, we collected over 11 million butts in 2023, we could almost fill a football pitch, but in terms of weight, we’re talking about 3 tonnes (out of 13,000 produced).


>> If we wanted to put these numbers into context in relation to the work you do with IEG?

We were able to collect over 76,000 cigarette butts in 2023.

These butts can be turned into 560 portable ashtrays, or about 1,000 buttons, and we saved about 55 kg of CO2 compared to normal disposal processes for this waste.


>> I imagine many people are curious about this question: what do you do with the butts?

Cigarette butts are made of cellulose acetate. Today, this plastic material is mainly used in the eyewear industry to make frames.

Having gone through several processes to remove harmful substances, our butts are restored to their plastic state.

This polymer can subsequently be used in a variety of thermoplastic processes to make commonly-used items such as portable ashtrays, buttons, zips, etc..

RE-CIG is an entrepreneurial company from Trentino and has been an exhibitor at Ecomondo for many years.
This interview was given by Marco Fimognari, CEO & Founder of RE-CIG.